Sunday, June 14, 2015

What I'm doing instead of the Des Moines Marathon

Most readers of this blog had no idea I was even considering the Des Moines Marathon, so the declaration that I've decided against it doesn't have quite the impact.

After my half marathon success, I began to wonder whether I should take on a new challenge, and the obvious next step seemed to be a marathon.

The even more obvious next step seemed to be the Des Moines Marathon: It takes place in late October; I live near one of the more challenging portions of the race; and I now work from home on flexible hours.

What I didn't account for, though, was the freedom of no longer working nights and weekends. I've been taking full advantage of this new development — it's like summer break for grownups, because there's time to play and income to fund the fun.

There were a few other factors pushing me away from the marathon, but that was the primary one.

Here are the races I'm considering instead:

Bix 7 (July 25). I still have to figure out whether I trust myself to not party too hard during the July 24 Cheap Trick concert in Coralville and then wake up at 5 a.m. to get to Davenport by 6:30 a.m. for day-of packet pickup.

Also, I'll be honest: Racing in Des Moines has spoiled me when it comes to race-day travel. With the exception of RAGBRAI 2014, I've barely given transportation and parking a thought since I left Rockton.

But the outlook looks fairly promising. I'm struggling with motivation to run, and encouraged by the general feasibility of doing this race.

Capital Pursuit (Sept. 20). The website claims it's a fast race, so we'll see whether I can beat my last 10-mile race, which definitely incorporated hills. This will force me to train, but not to suffer: I'd probably start training the last week of July (or early August, if I do the Bix 7).

Sycamore 8 (early December). An off-road race in the Midwest in early winter? If that doesn't say "new challenge," I don't know what does.

Half marathon wild cards: I would consider doing the NewBo half marathon (Sept. 6), the Des Moines half (Oct. 18) or the Hillbilly Hike (Nov. 7).

Friends have expressed vague interest in doing the NewBo half and the Des Moines half, so I offered to run with them should they decide to do so. Also, NewBo and Hillbilly both also host a 10K; I could use those as a baseline, if 10K becomes next year's speed target.

And finally (geez, I ramble), I have two formal bike rides actually planned: this weekend's Bacoon Ride, which we could manage to stretch into a century ride, and more importantly, the Tour de Fur on Aug. 30, which benefits Furry Friends Refuge!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Post No. 300 is about not running

(Irrelevant to the post itself: This is my 300th on this blog!)

This is sort of a mishmash of tangentially related topics — being at an athletic event and not participating.

First was my experience volunteering at Run for the Trees, which was a 5K/one-mile race the day before my half marathon. I very much wanted to go, because the venue sounded gorgeous and it benefited the Boone County Historical Society, led by my good friend Pam.

Running didn't seem like a smart idea, so I volunteered instead, though I'm not sure that standing outside for an hour on a cool, damp day was textbook pre-race prep. (Obviously, it all turned out OK.)

My job was to usher runners toward the finish line, which was a pretty low-effort job. That left me with plenty of energy to cheer on runners and shout out things like "first female finisher!" "top-five finish!" "lookin' good, almost there!" at people.

I'm not sure whether I was encouraging, annoying, or useless. It probably depends on whether you're a grumpy runner, like me, who doesn't want to hear uplifting comments when things get tough (and did I mention it was a trail race after a rainy morning?), or a runner unsure of your runner status and in need of a cheerleader.

But at any rate, it was fun in spite of the rain and the early wakeup call required to be in Boone on time. I would consider volunteering at another race; we'll see whether that ever manifests itself in action, though ...

On the other end of the emotional spectrum was watching Cory finish Dam to Dam recently. I arrived in time to cheer him on during the final 200 meters (he didn't hear me, but I know I was there) and hung out with him at the post-race party for a bit.

I was there about 15 minutes before he finished, and you would think that watching tired runners — or, worse, the incredibly gifted ones who sprinted to the end — would have made me think "man, I'm glad I'm not running, I'd look worse than the tired ones and be livid at the energetic ones."

Nope. I was jealous. I stood in the crowd, stereotyping much of it as not-runners, and thought wistfully: I belong with the people on the course. I might not look like it, but I do, I promise!

It is an odd feeling to be back on the outside again, watching sweaty people with huge grins hobble around, bubbling over with post-race analysis. Only a few weeks ago, I was clearly one of them — that day, I was just an admirer.

So that sounded rather bleak and self-deprecating, but it actually wasn't. It also refueled my running flame, in that I reopened my mind to Dam to Dam and that I resolved — sometime soon — to start working on a fall race schedule.

More on that schedule in a few days ... it's taking shape, but needs some actual thought still.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Race report: Woofin' It 5K

Funny that a race I spend so much time talking up to people and eagerly anticipating ends up being a blog post I just never write.

(Turns out starting a brand-new job immediately after the old one finishes, then going out of town every weekend, will put you behind on your personal to-do list.)

Anyways, nearly a month ago now, I did my third straight Woofin' It 5K, which as everyone knows benefits Furry Friends Refuge animal shelter, the place that saved my Dusty cat and has since hired me. Obviously a great cause :)

Other factors that made this Woofin' It especially pleasantly memorable:

The weather was as perfect as weather gets. Cory and I biked out to Campbell Recreation Area in the morning, enjoyed a humidity-free run, then rode to dine outdoors in Waukee, all in total comfort.

We again shared a dog, though we could have each taken one of our own, and she was perfect. She pulled a bit early in the race, but then mellowed out; she didn't bark or lunge at anyone; she had a purple collar on to match my purple T-shirt ...

... and her name was Sadie.

Proudly crossing the finish line!
People came up to me after the race to ask what "my" dog's name was and praise her. I felt pretty proud, even though I'd done absolutely nothing except let her enjoy the outdoors.

(Hey, Des Moines readers, just an FYI that Sadie's still available for adoption. Sadye, on the other hand, is content in her forever home.)

And ... that's about it, I guess. Maybe next time I should blog closer to the actual event, so that I have more stories to share. (Though in my defense, we missed the costume contest because we left late, and during the race I was a bit stressed out by something that had happened at my now-former job.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What's next?

What's next for me? I don't have a quick answer beyond a charity walk on Saturday.

After a strong showing at the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K, I found myself agreeing with Cory that maybe next year, the 10K would be a good idea.

Then, after our strong showing at the Drake Relays half marathon, I found myself with the odd feeling that I've — well, "conquered" or "mastered" are too strong of words ... maybe solved or figured out the half marathon.

And while I proved last year that I can bike across the state of Iowa in a week, I decided that for personal and not physical reasons, I would skip RAGBRAI 2015.

Clearly it's time for something different. I have a few ideas rattling around my head, but nothing I'm ready to commit to on the Internet.

New race distances are definitely in play, such as doing the Newbo 10K (to help a friend commit to the Newbo Half Marathon!), or, closer to home, the Capital Pursuit 10-miler.

Heck, even though hills, heat and humidity are my idea of hell, maybe this would be the best year to attempt the Bix 7 in Davenport — people rave about it, but it's always on the last day of RAGBRAI.

I'm giving myself the rest of the month to figure it out; I kept up a reasonable amount of exercise in the two weeks between the half marathon and Saturday's Woofin' It 5K (race report still to come). I chose "the rest of the month" for two reasons:

One, it seems like the right amount of time to keep myself from burning out, mentally and physically, on running.

And two, my personal life is getting pretty chaotic in a good way: travel plans and job transitions. Starting Monday, I'll no longer have a full-time job; I'm switching to two part-time gigs, one of which has a strong potential to become full-time by the end of the year.

So by the time June arrives, I'll be firmly parked in Des Moines for a while, and I'll have a better sense for what my days look like.

Yes, exercise is a stress-reliever, and I plan to keep active for the next few weeks, but to try to plan workouts around leaving one job/starting another/hitting the road multiple weekends seems like an added source of anxiety.

Tentatively, I'd like to get two bike rides of substance, two runs and two yoga sessions in a week. So many of my friends are into weight-lifting that I feel compelled to worry about getting strength training in ... but that's something I'll worry about in June!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy cycle-versary to me

A year plus a few days ago, I took the plunge into bike commuting. Back then, I didn't know whether I'd love it or loathe it, but I was cautiously optimistic.

It took me less than a month to cancel my work parking pass. And though I kept waiting for winter to discourage me into reactivating it, I'm still sitting here, parking-pass-free.

The way Cory feels about commuting by bike seems to sum up my feelings, too: I don't always leave the apartment/work excited about riding, but every time I arrive at my destination, I'm glad I did it.

That even holds true in the winter, shockingly. (Of course, I'd feel differently if I didn't live with a bike guru who got me in good shape, equipment-wise, for snow riding.)

I am definitely not as committed to it as many other riders are. I can fairly easily find an excuse to drive to the grocery store that's only half a mile away from the apartment.

If I cheat on my bike often enough, though, I remember why I prefer it — I hate paying for parking, especially now that I got out of the habit of doing it, and I dread parallel parking.

(So don't think I have some higher moral reasons for biking, or that I'm self-righteous about it. It's laziness in a different form.)

And I also start to feel guilty about driving if I do it too much now. I'm an abstainer, not a moderator, so I tend to expect 100 percent commitment from myself.

Sometimes when I wish I'd burned calories and not fuel/money, I have to remind myself that more often than not, I take advantage of the fact that bike commuting *is* practical for me. (Again, I don't want to sound like a bike evangelical — not everyone is in the right position to do it. No judgment here.)

I guess the takeaway from this particular post is that if I meet up with you and I have helmet hair or give off a faint odor of perspiration, you'd better either deal with it or make excuses not to hang out. The Shrimp isn't getting put away anytime soon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Race report: Hy-Vee Road Races half marathon

This won't come as a surprise to anyone who follows me on Instagram, but this year's Hy-Vee Road Races half marathon was the polar opposite of my 2013 experience.

The short version: Race-day weather was perfect, I didn't stop to walk once, and I finished with a milestone personal record that far exceeded my goals.

The numbers: 1:58:59 (9:05 pace) overall; 56:32 (9:08 pace) at 10K; 1:02:27 (9:03 pace) for the final 6.9 miles.

I did Bulldog Hill in 4:19:54, which because I never bothered to time myself during training doesn't mean a whole lot. My preliminary results sheet says that was good for 17th in my division (in comparison, my 10K rank was 38 and my total race rank was 25).

So, to back up, for anyone who cares. Cory and I both decided to keep the 2:00:00 pacers within our sights for as long as it felt OK. That turned out to be the entire race, though how close they were did vary. (We figured out eventually that they went out a bit fast to bank time on the hills.)

I didn't feel fantastic starting out, but by mile 2 it became apparent to me that it was simply a matter of warming up. Everything felt springy and good until close to mile 7.

At that point, we'd changed directions, and we both actually started to get a little too hot. I even had a moment of light-headedness, so I made sure to get some water at the next aid station. That, plus a light breeze and more shade along the route, seemed to do the trick.

Somewhere after mile 8, Cory and I made a friend whose name we forgot to ask and for whom we later wished we'd waited at the finish line. We chatted with Mr. Quad Cities for nearly three miles about beer, pets and careers (as well as running) — a really nice way for us to keep our minds off the hills ahead.

Speaking of hills, the worst one for me was actually up Fleur Drive back to downtown. Not only was it the only one I hadn't practiced, but also it was very exposed to the strongest winds we'd felt yet that day.

After that, Cory and I were feeling much more confident: We'd entered our home turf. Up Grand we went, trying to encourage all the walkers (in an honest, voice-of-experience way), and turned onto 28th ... at which point I got butterflies.

We were so close at that point. I knew I had locked down all my safe goals, but only Cory had a sense for just how well we were doing. But so close didn't mean so easy.

Just as we got to the intersection of 28th and Ingersoll, I glanced at the spectators and saw co-worker Chris, there to cheer on his girlfriend with their beautiful dog. He recognized me too and yelled some encouragement, and I shouted back that I'd practiced on Bulldog Hill, I had it in the bag.

And maybe that was the pep talk I needed — not from him, but from myself — so up I went, passing quite a few walkers on the way. (What a jerk, right?)

Not long after we crested the hill, Cory turned to me and said he was gonna step it up. This came right as I felt the worst, far enough from the hill where we'd both caught our breath, but close enough where the fatigue had suddenly all settled into my left quad.

"Go ahead," I said. "I don't have anything extra." He tried to be encouraging, but I let a little whine creep into my voice as I insisted I really didn't.

I'm sure I slowed up some, yet I never lost sight of Cory. And once I was within sight of University Avenue and had about a mile left, my legs found a second wind.

I have never, ever, felt so strong during mile 12 of a race. Not even during the 2013 Des Moines Half Marathon, when I PR'ed by eight minutes. I did pass a few people and gained some ground on Cory, and my revival was rewarded when I entered the stadium ...

... this year, you barely had to run around the track. Instead of a quarter-mile left, I had not even a quarter of the track!

My spirits went from great to over the moon. I think I yelled "f--- yeah two hours!" as I sprinted that final leg, arms in the air, tossing that monkey off my back with conviction.

Once more: 1:58:59. I cleared 2:00:00 with a whole minute to spare. There is literally nothing I can think of, from my taper week through mile 13.09, that I wish I'd done differently or better.

Time to kick back for a week and bask in my glory before deciding what's next.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sightings in the wild, part II

I've been spotted by co-workers while out on the loose again.

A while back, I was running past Walgreens as co-worker Jennifer was walking out to her car. I think she recognized me, in spite of what was almost certainly a crazy outfit; at the very least, she returned my wave.

A more recent spotting came from Jill, who was in a car at the time (but not the white CR-V that honked at me along 42nd Street).

It was raining at the time, which evidently prompted Jill to turn to her school-aged daughter and ask, "Do you think we should stop and offer her a ride?"

I didn't look miserable, though (hooray, no race face!), so they kept going. However, I think this was the same day it hailed, because I don't remember any other rainy runs ... maybe they should have stopped.

* * *

As for Sunday's Hy-Vee Road Races half marathon — I did it, and I did it well. I want to blog about it well, too, and today I just don't have the brain space. But details will be forthcoming, I promise!